French military helicopters fly above the crash site of Air Algerie flight AH5017 near the northern Mali town of Gossi. Reuters

While the two black boxes from the crashed Air Algerie flight AH5017 began their journey to France from northern Mali, it may take some more time for the bodies to reach home.

French president Francois Hollande has promised that the bodies of 118 people who died in the crash will be brought to France.

Fifty-four French nationals were on board the flight. There were no survivors.

But, according to Burkina Faso General Gilbert Diendéré, that may prove difficult.

"I don't think we can reconstitute the bodies," he said. "They have been scattered, dispersed... let's hope we can at least have the ashes."

Representatives of Burkinabé, Lebanese and French families who visited the site agreed. "There's not much to see," one of them, Eugène Somda said.

"The wreckage of the plane, small pieces, not much to recognise an airplane... We want to go and find out but can we live with what we've seen? It's going to be very hard."

Experts from France's Bureau of Investigations and Analyses (BEA) have begun sifting through the remains of the shattered aircraft to identify the victims of the disaster.

Meanwhile, Mali's Communications Minister Mahamadou Camara told AFP the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder had been taken to the capital Bamako from the remote desert crash site and would now be "handed over to French authorities" and then travel on to France later.

Hollande, who announced three days of mourning, said he would make sure that families can, at some point, travel to the crash site to help them cope with their grief. He also promised that a memorial would be erected at the site.

Families of victims from Burkina Faso, from where the McDonnell Douglas MD-83 aircraft took off, were flown out by helicopter to pay respects at the scrubby bushland site. But, in a blow to the bereaved, the mayor of the northern Malian town of Gossi, said that the remains would be difficult to recover.

'Bodies shredded and burned'

"No bodies can be recovered because they are shredded and burned. Everything has burned, even the forest in a radius of 200 metres," said Moussa Ag Almouner.

"It is heart-breaking and difficult for any person to bear. You are left with no appetite. It's better not to go and see," he added, after a visit to the site.

Initial evidence taken from the remote crash site indicates that the Algiers-bound plane disintegrated when it hit the ground, making an attack appear unlikely.